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Update on Dream Chaser

Link here.

Overall progress has been incredibly slow, considering the NASA contract to build this was awarded in 2016. Sierra Space is only building one spacecraft, designed to be reusable. For six years to have passed and the spacecraft, dubbed Tenacity, is still a year away from flight, seems excessive, especially because the spaceplane is small. It took SpaceX only four years to go from concept to successfully landing first stages. Starship began test flights only three years after the project began.

Still, the spaceplane is moving forward. Hopefully by February ’23 it will finally fly, giving the U.S. another method besides Dragon for getting cargo to and from space. That it might do so before Boeing’s Starliner is somewhat ironic, and puts more pressure on that company to get that capsule operational.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • James Street

    One difference is old space uses the traditional project management methodology called “Waterfall” where at the start of a 10-year project everyone sits down and plans out every task that must be completed and part that must be built over the 10 years, as well as start and end dates for each task. These are broken down into smaller and smaller increments of sub-tasks within tasks with start/end dates, all tracked in Microsoft Project.

    When Elon Musk first started SpaceX I read an article that he was going to use the Agile project management methodology used in computer programming where tasks and construction are done in 2-week “sprints” allowing great flexibility and creative problem solving and testing within and at the end of each 2-week sprint. The author of the article was really negative on Musk’s chances of success. I’ll admit I was doubtful he could do it.

  • James Street: As an outsider my first impression of these two approaches is clearcut:

    Waterfall: Designed to stifle creativity, innovation, and improvisation. Also designed to guarantee costs will go up.

    Agile: Designed to encourage the former, with the consequence that the latter will likely be kept under tight control.

  • pzatchok

    How fast did we design and build aircraft in WW2?
    And that was with slide rules and paper.

  • Concerned

    They need a new name. “Dream Chaser” just doesn’t sound very serious. So it’s not too surprising they’re not making rapid progress.

  • GaryMike


    I’d go for “Kick Ass” instead.

    Get’r done!

  • John

    There’s something elegant and practical about gliding back and landing on a runway on good old dry land. Good luck to them.

  • Richard M

    The Waterfall model seems well adapted to traditional cost-plus federal contracts, where the government demands greater insight and particpation in development, and where failure is not an option (lest you trigger agency level and congressional investigations when your air defense system or space crew vehicle fails spectacularly), and timelines are rarely urgent. For NASA contractors in particular, it must have been a rational response to government contracting requirements. Federal legacy contractors may be corrupt, sluggish, badly managed, and excessively shareholder focused, but they are invariably rational actors if nothing else!

    I’m unclear just exactly how Sierra is doing Dream Chaser development in this regard. Everything I’ve seen suggests, admittedly, that they are not as agile or driven as SpaceX, though I think at least *part* of the problem is that they simply are not as well capitalized as SpaceX has been for the last decade. They did a Series A funding round last fall for $1.4 billion to ramp up development of a crew version…which is money Elon Musk could probably find in his couch cushions. Allowance must be made, too, for the fact that a fair bit of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon development could lean on work done on the Dragon 1 cargo vehicle (though on the other hand, NASA kibitzing surely delayed Crew Dragon deployment in other ways), an advantage Sierra does not have. In short, I have some reservations about how Sierra’s DC work is going, but I am hesitant to push that very far without more information.

    It’s also true, by the way, that Sierra does indeed plan to build just the one DC vehicle (Tenacity) for fulfillment of its CRS-2 contract (and NASA’s OIG has expressed concern about that), but according to the AIAA they apparently plan to build as many as 10-15 DC’s by the 2030’s to meet government and commercial demand. That seems awfully optimistic to me, but it does seem likely that they’re working to build at least a couple more, though they surely won’t be ready until the CRS-2 contract has run its course. If I have hope for Dream Chaser’s propects, it’s that at least Sierra seems to be seriously pursuing a business case with commercial customers, and that is something we have seen zero evidence of in regards to Boeing and Starliner.

  • Richard M

    Hello John,

    There’s something elegant and practical about gliding back and landing on a runway on good old dry land. Good luck to them.

    I can’t help but be a fan. Maybe it’s not *entirely* rational. The obvious advantages: lower g-forces on reentry (which would be very valuable for emergency medical evacuations), greater cross range, and more rapid access to the vehicle for time-sensitive cargo or medically compromised crew. Maybe that’s not enough to make it as valuable as Crew Dragon (let alone Starship!), but maybe there’s a niche case for it….

  • pzatchok

    I do not like the idea of a glide back.

    Unless the craft has a engine to give it a second chance at landing. The shuttle did not have a second chance. One try or death.

    As an emergency ship how long will it orbit until a landing field opens up?

  • Jeff Wright

    Waterfall might be best for glide back. Bot and lifting body tests came beforehand…and they want to get this right.

    Capsules are even better known—so Agile works fine there.

  • pawn


    There are thousands of successful landings every day that didn’t require a second approach. If your avionics and controls can get you into the glide slope window then you are pretty much landing in one piece. If they can’t then you have big problems and having an “engine” with limited range isn’t going to help you much.

    Aborted landings are usually due to weather or other air traffic.

    You have plenty of time to find an alternative if you prime landing strip is socked in. Or you just wait a day or so for things to clear up.

    There are other phases of the flight that have higher risks.

    So in the realm of getting back you either glide or dive. Musk thinks there is another way but we shall see how that works out soon.

  • James Street

    Robert, that is a good summary. Agile has tighter oversite so there is less chance for error. Agile has 15 minute daily “scrum meetings” every morning led by the “scrum master” where they go around the table and every person on the team answers 3 questions:
    1. What did you do yesterday?
    2. What will you do today?
    3. Are there any impediments in your way?
    Any impediments and the scrum master works with management to iron them out.

    In Waterfall one example of skullduggery is everyone pads the amount of time it will take to get work done and then usually puts the work off until the very last minute. Been there, done that. No one ever noticed. That said every software company I’ve worked at has used Waterfall except one that tried to implement Agile and it wasn’t done well and the results weren’t that great. Agile is tricky which is why I doubted Elon Musk’s success. But it is favored by creative people for its flexibility.

    I think Amazon also uses Agile which is one reason they implement change so quickly and successfully.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Anyone seen any data on cross-range capability of the Starship? I assume it’s not great. since most of the maneuvering seems to occur late in the flight at very high angles of attack, but maybe that’s all they’ve had occasion to try so far?

    Ps. As I think I said before, as a former glider instructor I used to enjoy reminding power pilots doing their first “dead stick” landing that there was no go-around option! Not cruel in my opinion because most of them were way overconfident in their actual stick-and-rudder skills!

  • sippin_bourbon

    I spent some time on a vessel, and then one day was on a different one that was the lead vessel of the same class.
    The differences were remarkable. There were many significant changes.

    This first DreamChaser is essentially a prototype. They are both building and learning as they go, while assembling Tenacity. After is has flown once or twice, I am sure there will be tweaks and improvements. But they will have the advantage of having built one already. Knowledge Gained.

    I would rather they take their time and get it right, so that that: A) future iterations can be produced quicker; B) construction and assembly lessons are studies and retained; and C) they avoid the same lesson of Starliner.

    The only other thing I would add is that the design was derived from HL-20, however, under the skin, I imagine that the differences in tech evolution are mind boggling. Even since SNC took over, some of the leaps in tech and shifts in the commercial space market have been fast paced. Making sure the final product takes advantage of the best tech while still being a viable and competitive product is a challenge in and of itself.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Just FYI, after a quick skim of Sierra Space job postings, I found a few that look for familiarity with Agile, or similar methods.

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